[Ads-l] teach a pig to play a flute

W Brewer brewerwa at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jul 21 09:14:48 UTC 2017

"Teach a pig to play a flute" is reminiscent of Aarne-Thompson tale types
1675 and 1750, numskull tales involving fraudulent schemes promising to
teach animals to speak.
Ashliman p.292 is typical: << 1750. THE TURKEYS WHO TALKED TOO MUCH. A
clever woman, in return for lavish provisions, took the queen's turkeys
away, promising to train them to talk. She reported to the queen that the
turkeys had learned their lessons well, but that they would say only one
thing: "The princess had a lover." The queen insisted that the turkeys be
killed, so the woman did not have to return them. >>

JL:  << A man once got a sum of money from a king on the promise he would
teach the king's horse to sing within one year.  When asked why he had made
such a dangerous deal, he said, "In one year the horse may die, or the king
may die, or I may die, or, who knows? the horse might learn to sing". >>
WB:  This is very close to tale type 1750B, p.412 in Aarne-Thompson-Uther:
<< 1750B. Teaching the Donkey to Speak. A ruler (landlord) wants his donkey
(camel, dog, calf) to learn to speak (read, pray), but cannot find anyone
who will teach it [H1024.4]. He offers a big salary to any teacher who can
do this in ten (25, etc.) years' time [K551.11]. If the teacher fails, he
will be punished (killed). A poor man (Eulenspiegel) accepts the task,
hoping that by the end of the time, either he, the donkey, or the master
will be dead. >>

JL:  << Evidence there suggests a Chinese origin, perhaps. >>
WB:  I have found parallels in neither Chinese nor Japanese indices.
Category 1750 is simply vacuous.

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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